Possibly as Many as 7,000 Unmarked and Undocumented Graves Discovered in Westland, Michigan

Eloise_HospitalEloise in Wayne County, Michigan, was a hospital for the mentally ill. It later cared for tuberculosis patients and others needing residential care. The hospital operated from 1839 to 1984. The Eloise complex was a small city with 10,000 patients and a staff of 2,000 at its peak in the 1920s. John Byrnes grew up near the hospital and heard many stories about unmarked graves in a nearby field. He decided to find out. Byrnes and 12 volunteers have now uncovered more than 400 graves and have been told there could be more than 7,000.

A lot of people buried in the unmarked graves were poor. “They were sick, no family to claim them, and this is the place where they just started putting bodies,” said Byrnes. “Let these people have dignity. They didn’t have anything in life. I mean, in death, they’re just going to left like this? What if it was your family?” The volunteers are researching the identities of the deceased and are trying to notify living relative.

You can read more and watch a video in an article by Jason Colthorp in the Detroit’s Channel 4 web site at http://goo.gl/04D6CR.

My thanks to newsletter reader Ernie Thode for telling me about this story.

13 Comments

this is not unusual to have unmarked graves especially for the Indigent , or those who had no remaining family. My experience with the Poor House just outside of Doylestown Pa, back int the 70’s when I was researching the history of the place. Often the bodies would be sent to Medical schools for disection. I saw existing books that held the list of those bodies dealt with that way. There was also a field where the other bodies were interred , no head stones , just dimples in the ground where the dirt had settled…. There seemed to be fewer buried there than those bodies that were sent to Medical schools in Philadelphia..

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This reminds me that a wonderful book of genealogical research is centered upon a woman who was a patient at Eloise. The title is: Annie’s Ghosts: A Journey Into a Family Secret, by Steve Luxenberg. A very good read.

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My father worked at Eloise right out of high school back in the 1930’s, and he had some stories to tell about the place, none of which I can remember, fortunately. It was a creepy place, so he didn’t stay very long.

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My g-grandmother was there in the 1910’s and died as a result of childbirth. Thankfully, she is not buried there. When I grew up, Eloise was a mental hospital and later closed. I still get the creeps when I pass by there.

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This is no lost cemetery. Many of the graves were uncovered years ago. Over 4300 of those buried in the Eloise Cemetery can be found on FindAGrave where people from all over the world can find their ancestors. More information on this historic complex and cemetery can be found on the Friends of Eloise Facebook page.

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WE have a relative buried there and are very grateful to know there is a real cemetery. But it is hard to believe that Find A Grave can help when there are only numbers on the stones and not names. They must have a list of those buried, a lot list perhaps.

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    No, there is no lot list and no sequence to the numbered blocks. There were burial books at one time and some of the burials can be identified, but most were lost. The people on FindAGrave were found on death certificates with “Eloise” identified as the cemetery.

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Thanks for your comment, Patricia. It reminded me that I should add my gr-great grandfather John E Conklin to FindAGrave. He died in the Eloise Infirmary Feb 28, 1924. His 70th birthday.

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    Your gr. grandfather John E. Conklin is not buried in the Eloise Cemetery. A check with http://www.seekingmichigan.org shows that he was buried in Wayne, Michigan. You have more than one cemetery to choose from there but it narrows down the search. Some records for Eloise deaths only state “Detroit.” Another useful website for checking on deaths in Eloise is http://www.familysearch.org.

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I guess I was fooled by his death certificate. It states interment address: Eloise, Mich.

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    I was wrong. The copy of the death certificate is so bad that what I thought was interment was actually informant when using a magnifying glass. Bad me. Cue wrist slap. Thanks for setting me straight, Patricia.

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    Yes, some handwritten death certificates are difficult to read. You aren’t the first person to misinterpret what was written. Good luck in finding the correct cemetery for John.

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